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During the past couple of weeks I got a bit addicted to online 2-player "ranked matches" of Carcassonne on my XBox. After a few humiliating losses against the local sharks, it became obvious to me that optimal strategy is probably not to concentrate on building your own features, and hope you come out ahead in the final points tally; but to aggressively trap the opponent's meeples in disadvantageous, or preferably completely inescapable, positions - until your usable men outnumber theirs enough that you can dominate the game. That's if they haven't managed to trap your guys first, of course!

My problem is that I have a hazier idea of what constitutes a good trap than what some of my better opponents do. I'll be thinking "aha, you'll never find a tile with three road sides and one city side", and obviously they draw such a thing straightaway. Conversely, when they see me making an obvious attempt to block one of their guys in, they'll quickly box themselves in in such a way that it's easy for them to draw the right piece to escape.

So: is there a list of the different tiles in the basic game of Carcassonne? What positions are impossible to extract a meeple from, and/or what are the easiest spots to draw a good tile to escape from? Help me become as evil and dastardly a Carcassonne player as my opponents!

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up vote 15 down vote accepted

The first question is straightforward. Yes, there is a list of the tiles.

It is much easier to discuss places where no tile can be placed, rather than meeple traps, although they are obviously related. The basic game has no tiles with the (unordered) edges {pasture, pasture, road, city} or {pasture, road, city, city}. It also has no tile with the ordered edges (city, road, city, road).

I tend to use these facts to try to create unfinishable holes next to my opponent's features.

If you're on the ball you can also use the fact that some tiles have already gone. I usually only use this for spotting whether farmland can easily become connected or not, by keeping track of the six monastery tiles (i.e. the pieces with the most 'pasture connectivity'). In theory you could use this to keep track of other types of tiles too.

One last thing - when my opponent has a large city on the go, then it's worth putting in effort to ensure it doesn't get completed. This can mean adding tiles to open out their city. It is more usual to be trying to create unfillable spaces though, and this is best done by placing tiles to try to hit one of the three combinations above.


Note: This applies to the base Carcassonne set. I played enough with Inns and Cathedrals to learn that set too, but as you add more sets learning the distibution has diminishing returns. Here is a full list of the expansions and their tile distributions.

All the tile edge combinations exist in one set or another as there are only 24 (until you start including river tiles). There are plenty more tiles designs than that (e.g. two city edges may or may not join on a tile), and they've probably all been done in one expansion or another by now!

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+1: This is a great answer. –  ire_and_curses Jul 29 '11 at 15:57
    
Agreed, an excellent answer. Thank you! –  thesunneversets Aug 1 '11 at 9:51
    
It can be nearly as effective to join their castles and roads as it is to cripple them. That way the only advantage to completing a project is to get your meeps back. The XBLA game doesn't really last long enough for you to lock away all of their meeple in traps, even with the DLC. –  Joshua Shane Liberman Oct 11 '11 at 18:15
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